Recently Maharashtra government’s state-wide ban on the use of plastic products, including single-use disposable items. Packaging waste management is one of the essential ligaments in the food processing sector. If not treated properly, the waste can be a tremendous threat to the environment. Meenakshi Garg, Pushkar Gupta, Susmita Sadhu Dey and Tanweer Alam discuss here various issues related to the problem.


Packaging waste, as it suggests is the waste that is generated by the packaging material after the product is being consumed. With respect to the food industry, the major packaging waste generated is the plastics, tin, and paper. Among them, plastic is the major packaging material used because of its good packaging characteristics, easy printability and also easy availability and low cost.

There are many issues that can be a result of unorganised and irresponsible management of packaging waste. When it comes to the management of the packaging waste, it is of utter importance to us, as the waste, if not efficiently handle, will not contribute to the sustainable development of the environment, by conversely, will add to the pollution in the environment. The first problem that the plastics create is that the rate of degradation of plastics is not reasonable enough.

The plastic packaging waste if not collected properly and managed, will add a number of pollutants in nature. The irresponsible and unsystematic dumping of the plastic produces highly toxic gases like chlorine, carbon monoxide, phosgene, nitrogen dioxide, dioxin and sulphur dioxide. Plastic packaging wastes are also alleged of contributing about 54 carcinogens to the environment. Also, environment’s 16% chlorine pollutants are accredited to plastic packaging wastes. Metals like tin and aluminium which are used as packaging materials in canning and preformed trays are no less behind. They take 100-500 years to degrade in nature and thus can be a threat, if not disposed and utilized properly[2]. Paper as a packaging waste may not contribute much to the pollution unless it is taken care off in right manner. Since it is biodegradable, it is easily decomposed in simpler forms to produce organic matter and even is very easily recyclable.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned problems, it thus arises a need for packaging waste management. The principle of waste management is to devise strategies to mitigate the packaging waste which is being generated at a continuous, never-ending pace. These strategies include the government rules and regulations in compliance with the packaging and packaging waste, which helps in proper disposal and also the generation of less waste. It also comprises of strategies for effective collection and segregation of the waste and then applying the 3R model to overcome the waste. Waste management models like landfills, incineration, integrated plastic waste management (IPWM) and burning (in the ultimate cases) are also formed and analysed as a part of packaging waste management.

Not only devising strategies but also the assessment of these techniques or strategies are a crucial part of the holistic packaging waste management.

Broader Aspects of Concern

There are a number of reasons because of which packaging waste management in India is an issue of concern. These factors hamper the process or render the process of disposal slow. The factors are listed as follows[4]:

  • Lack of comprehensive data: Strategies can be effectively devised and revised if there is enough data available to look upon. Also, the availability of comprehensive data by the concerned authorities itself gives an idea where we actually stand and reflect the present status. Here, due to the lack of this comprehensive data, is sometimes difficult for the stakeholders to have concrete information and figures in hand.
  • Ineffective waste management: One of the major causes is ineffective waste management. The waste which is collected is not properly disposed off or being utilized correctly. This ineffectiveness can then lead to other problems like environmental pollution, health hazards for humans as well as animal life. Waste if not properly disposed or managed, can generate carcinogens, toxic gases, soil quality degradation and chemical contamination of crops and water bodies.
  • Replication of 3R’S model: The 3 R’s model, though implemented in India, is not thoroughly practiced at every stage. The glitches in systems and also the ignorance of rules are the major reasons for this issue.
  • Packaging waste is not included in the rules which are being framed for the safe disposal. These rules are somehow restricted to only the radioactive waste and the waste generated in the nuclear fission. If packaging waste would have been included in this category, then authorities could have been more strict towards the disposal of the waste.
  • Segregation of municipal solid waste upon its collection: The waste which is collected by the Municipal Corporation is not properly segregated in different categories after it is collected. This also delays the process of disposal or recycling, which should be the fate of the waste. All waste, not being segregated, gets the same treatment, and hence the waste which is incompatible with that treatment, remains not being recycled or unutilized.
  • Ineffectiveness in enforcing plastic waste rules: This is also the major cause of concern. The rules are not being implemented forcefully, which cover the plastic disposal. Most of the plastic waste is being sold off to the scrap collectors, which either burn it or to an extent, sell it further to the authorities, which can then go for recycling. Generally, the plastic waste generated by packaging, goes to the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and there, if segregated efficiently, it is reutilized, otherwise, it is sent to the landfill sites with other waste.
  • Growing packaging industry: Although the growth of packaging sector, is not directly a cause for the issue, but as the industry is expanding, more waste is being generated, which is then not managed flawlessly, because of the above mentioned reasons. Indian packaging industry stands strongly now, growth being 5 year CAGR of 7% in terms of volume. These rules are somehow restricted to only the radioactive waste and the waste generated in the nuclear fission. If packaging waste would have been included in this category, then authorities could have been more strict towards the disposal of the waste.
  • Segregation of municipal solid waste upon its collection: The waste which is collected by the Municipal Corporation is not properly segregated in different categories after it is collected. This also delays the process of disposal or recycling, which should be the fate of the waste. All waste, not being segregated, gets the same treatment, and hence the waste which is incompatible with that treatment, remains not being recycled or unutilized.
  • Ineffectiveness in enforcing plastic waste rules: This is also the major cause of concern. The rules are not being implemented forcefully, which cover the plastic disposal. Most of the plastic waste is being sold off to the scrap collectors, which either burn it or to an extent, sell it further to the authorities, which can then go for recycling. Generally, the plastic waste generated by packaging, goes to the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and there, if segregated efficiently, it is reutilized, otherwise, it is sent to the landfill sites with other waste.
  • Growing packaging industry: Although the growth of the packaging sector, is not directly a cause for the issue, but as the industry is expanding, more waste is being generated, which is then not managed flawlessly, because of the above-mentioned reasons. Indian packaging industry stands strongly now, growth being5 year CAGR of 7% in terms of volumes, which leads to the estimated current market size of about 8 million tonnes year. Packaging from Food & agri accounts for almost 40% of this total figure. Ministry of state for environment, forest and climate change, has indicated that 15,000 tonnes of plastic is being generated every singling India. Of this, only 9,000tonnes is being collected. It can thus be inferred that almost 2.2 million tonnes of waste is not collected annually and not be recycled in any way and it thus is residual in the environment to pollute it.
Fig 1: Sources of the Packaging Waste

Fig 1: Sources of the Packaging Waste

Sources of Packaging Waste

The streams from which packaging waste is being generated are listed below. These broadly classified sources are the major ones from which the major part of packaging waste is being generated and add to the load.

These include the household source, such as the packaging waste from the processed food that we consume, like biscuits, noodles, rice, flour, and many more. Then the waste from the packaging industry itself is also a major source in this list. Then is the retail sector, both organised and unorganised. Apart from these, the municipal solid waste and the scrap collector or the kabadiwala are also the sources of generation of packaging waste.

MSW for Five major cities is also given in figure 2. It shows, generally, how the quantities are increasing, with progressive years. And the figures reflect the load in tonnes per day, which again is alarming. It can be inferred from the data given in the chart, that currently, Delhi is ahead of all in producing maximum MSW in comparison other cities in India and Panjim (in Goa) being the least producing with just 35 tonnes a day. Hence, it also prompts the need for stronger management systems and models for disposal.

Fig 2: MSW quantities in increasing years

Fig 2: MSW quantities in increasing years

Models for packaging waste management

Different models are being practiced for packaging waste management in India. Depending on the feasibility and the nature of the waste, different models are being practiced. These include landfills, recycling, incineration, IPWM.

Landfills: These are the sites that are used basically to simply bury the waste. It is historically the most common method of waste management know in organised sector. In this model, the waste is simply dumped in the large pits at the land sites. When fully filled, they are covered and left as such. In cases, these also include the sites for temporary storage of collected waste for segregation, recycling, and other processes. In India, two sectors operate, formal and informal. The formals landfills are registered to the municipal authorities, and also are bound to pay the taxes as applicable to them. Also, the corporation thus keeps an account of them. Waste like plastics (nonrecyclable) are disposed of using this model.

Incineration: It is the process of simply burning the waste. It is also called the “heat treatment” given to the waste. This burns the waste matter into ashes and flue gases and heat. The ashes are mostly of the inorganic matter in the waste. The waste generally treated by this model is the waste containing some organic matter, that is thus removed by its combustion

Reduce, reuse and recycle: In this model, the waste is tried to be reduced itself. This can be done by altering the design, shape or some function of the product. Reuse is the process in which the product is again used for the same purpose. It depends upon the Life Cycle Assessment of the material of the packaging, that to what extent it can be reused. For example, Carlsberg India implements a system of Reusable Glass Bottles (RGB). This means that they bring back their empty beer bottles to the plant and then after cleaning them thoroughly, again fill them and send to the market. The glass that is in form of waste, is melted in the blast furnace as cullets and reused again. Recycling is the model in which the waste is transformed into the raw material by heat treatment or other processing and then made into economically valuable products. This, though, does not reduce the waste production but helps in transforming waste into products that are now useful and also less polluting in nature. For example, the plastics from polyethylene are ground and mixed with cement to form Bitumen, a more durable and water-resistant material for road construction. Also, the plastics are used to make the railway track rails. Paper and metals from the packaging waste are very ubiquitously recycled.

Integrated Food Packaging Waste Management: It is a model in which the waste is systematically collected, segregated thoroughly and then transported for the appropriate fate. IPWM, if practiced properly and sincerely, is very effective in managing the waste and also its disposal. However, there are several challenges that come along in the IPWM for adoption in developing countries like ours. These include poor implementation, lack of necessary resources and institutional capabilities. Also, the waste collection in some areas is not organised to an extent. The IPWM approach reduces the burden of waste on the environment as compared to the only landfill or only incineration approach, as is the case in many developing countries.

Plastic Recycling Symbols

Understanding Plastic Recycling Symbols

Government Actions, Laws and Regulations

Till now, there were not any specific environmental policies or legislation, particularly for the plastic waste in India. Useful products are being reprocessed out of the plastic waste that is generated, collected and traded, by the known methods. This thus supplements the supply of the raw material and that too at an economical price. However, the government of Himachal Pradesh had introduced HP Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act in 1995. This act strictly prohibited the depositing or throwing of plastic articles in public spaces and also facilitated the collection of non-biodegradable garbage in properly marked and identifiable dustbins, placed at specific receptacles. On the same parameters, the Haryana government also implemented the law in 1997[1].

A strategy and an action programme of Plastics Waste Management in India has been recommended by The National Plastics Waste Management Task Force of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India[1].

A criterion for labelling plastic products as “environment-friendly”, has been issued by the ministry of environment and forest, GOI and in association with BIS. They have conditions that the packaging material used should be recyclable or biodegradable. Vimal Kedia, chairman of IIP, Bangalore has also said in a conference that all forms of packaging used in the food and pharmaceutical packaging are safe and 100% biodegradable.

A National Association of PET industry has been formed recently by PET manufacturers and users in India. This association is expected to look after the organised collection and recycling of PET bottles/containers waste.

Prescribed authorities have not achieved the desired results due to various reasons, as is observed by an appraisal of implementation. Thus, a need was felt to again ponder upon the rules for the protection of the environment and public health by DOEF, in 2015. As per new rules, the poly bags used to have a thicker dimension to increase their cost and discourage their use. Also, penalties need to be stricter for better implementation. In accordance with the Solid Waste Management (SWM) rules, 2015, waste has to be segregated at the source itself. Also, the processing and disposal of plastic waste shall be in full compliance with the SWM rules of 2015.

The most far-reaching initiative is the new Plastic Waste Management Rules (March 2016) which is targeted at creating a system in which all the stakeholders in a chain are more accountable to waste management. This includes the following:

  • Expansion of jurisdictions of the municipal areas to the rural areas as well
  • Establishment of an extended producers responsibility system in which producers, importers, and the brand owners are required to establish a system for collection of packaging waste generated by the use of their product.
  • A system to be introduced for the collection of a plastic waste management fee through the pre-registration of the vendors/retailers, producers, and importers for using/handling plastic packaging. This fee collected is to be used for the establishment of the waste management system.
  • Eradicating or limiting the use and manufacture of non-recyclable multilayered plastic.
  • Hike in prices of plastic bags by 20% by increasing the thickness by 50 microns. This will discourage the vendors for freely giving the polybags.
  • Plastic waste to be reused as much as possible in activities like road construction and generating energy or oil from waste.

Conclusion

Packaging waste management is one of the essential ligaments in the food processing sector or in any economy. It deals with the sensible and systematic disposal of the waste that is generated by various sources in the environment. If not treated properly, the waste can be a tremendous threat to the environment, leading to heavy metal contamination, chemical residues and also carcinogens suspension and harmful gas production.

Currently, India is producing 1.09 million tonnes of MSW per year and the estimates for the year 2025 are around 3 million tonnes per year, the most in the world. Thus, it draws our attention towards a better management system for waste and also strengthening the current implemented laws and regulations for plastic waste disposal. Life cycle assessment shows that IPWM is the most efficient and effective technique for packaging waste management as compared to the landfills or incineration alone.

Apart from the industry and authorities concerned, it is also the responsibility of the citizens to achieve a better and cleaner and healthier system. If the people are themselves aware and concerned, more public indulgence in the waste management can be expected as well, like efficacy in segregation of waste, etc. thus the contribution of all together will drive our nation to the betterment and also pave a road for India towards enhanced packaging waste management.

Reference

  1. Dr. Pawan Sikka, Plastic Waste Management, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (2016)
  2. A. A. Akinola, I. A. Adeyemi and F. M. Adeyinka, A Proposal for the Management of Plastic Packaging Waste; Journal of Environmental Science, Toxicology And Food Technology (IOSR-JESTFT); ISSN: 2319-2399; Volume 8, Issue 1 Ver. I (Jan. 2014), Pg 71-78
  3. P. Singh, V.P Sharma, Integrated Plastic Waste Management: Environmental and Improved Health Approaches; Procedia Environmental Sciences 35; 2016; Pg 692-700
  4. Indian Institute of Packaging, Roadmap for Management of Waste In India; Packaging Waste Management; 2009
  5. Status Report,Municipal Solid Waste Management; Central Pollution Control Board; Ministry of Environment and Forests
  6. Nirupama V, National Conference On Packaging Waste, ET Bureau; Feb 17, 2016India’s pursuit to curb Plastic Packaging Waste; F&A Supply Chain, research.rabobank. com; June 2016.

This article was first published in the September 2018 issue of “Processed Food Industry” (monthly) magazine.

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